On December 16, 2015, Los Angeles City Council approved the Sportsmen's Landing project, paving the way for the demolition of the San Fernando Valley's iconic Sportsmen's Lodge. The City rejected four different appeals of the project, although a lawsuit (unrelated to preservation) against the City is still pending.
The proposed redevelopment will consist of over 97,000 square feet of mixed-use commercial space, including retail, restaurants, and a new health club.
Although the project will not affect the Sportsmen's Lodge Hotel, it will demolish the restaurant and banquet hall, which have been fixtures of the Valley's social scene for over half a century, and redesign the existing landscape. The property had previously been renovated in 2013.
Also in 2013, the Sportsmen's Lodge was identified as potentially eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, the California Register of Historical Resources, and as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) through SurveyLA. A subsequent historic assessment of the property on behalf of the project applicant determined that it did not retain integrity from its period of significance and that it was therefore not eligible for historic designation.
As a result, the City prepared a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for the project, which found that impacts to cultural resources would be less than significant with the proposed mitigation measures, including a new garden area that commemorates the look and feel of the original Sportsmen's Lodge landscape.
The environmental review process for this project represents a growing trend in the City of issuing MNDs in lieu of full Environmental Impact Reports (EIRs), despite the presence of potential or known historic resources.
In 2002, the Studio City Residents Association (SCRA) submitted a nomination for the Sportsmen's Lodge for designation as a Los Angeles Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM), with support from the Conservancy. Although there was not a specific proposal on the table at that time, the site was believed to be a target for redevelopment in the future. The nomination included the restaurant, banquet center, and landscape.
The Cultural Heritage Commission (CHC) recommended approval of the HCM nomination. At the request of City Council, the SCRA and Conservancy participated in a number of meetings with the property owner to find a compromise that would preserve the historic resources on the site while maintaining its development potential.
In 2006, the City Council's Planning and Land Use Management Committee voted to deny HCM status, raising questions about the site's integrity and arguing that there was insufficient evidence to support the nomination. The property owner then entered into an agreement with the City that placed a covenant on the property, stipulating that the owner maintain a permanent, publicly-accessible garden area on the property that commemorates the original Sportsmen's Lodge landscape. The CHC is required to review any building plans to ensure that the landscape feature is designed and incorporated per the agreement.
In 2013, the SurveyLA field team surveyed the property and identified the Sportsmen's Lodge site as a "rare and early private recreational facility in the San Fernando Valley" and an "important and popular gathering place for people working in the San Fernando Valley."
Despite ongoing questions about the property's historic significance, the City released a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) for the proposed Sportsmen's Landing project in October 2014, which did not address the impacts associated with the demolition of the banquet hall and restaurant. The MND indicated that the conditions outlined by the convenant for the commemorative landscape, along with the installation of a plaque or interpretive display, would satisfy any mitigation requirements.
In December 2014, the Director of Planning granted a Specific Plan Project Permit Compliance and a Specific Plan Project Permit Adjustment conditional approval to allow for the demolition of the existing structures and the construction of the proposed project. An appeal was filed in January 2015, but later withdrawn. Subsequently, neighboring property owners, including the owner of the adjacent hotel, filed a second appeal, which did not mention the historic resources.
The Conservancy was involved in the efforts in the early to mid-2000s to designate the Sportsmen's Lodge as an Historic Cultural Monument due to the significant role it played in the twentieth century development and identity of the San Fernando Valley.
Given the outstanding questions regarding the property's eligibility as an historic resource, the Conservancy believes that full Environmental Impact Report (EIR) should have been prepared for the proposed project. This would have allowed for greater study of the potential impacts to the Sportsmen's Lodge and would have required an analysis of possible alternatives that could have incorporated the existing resources into the new construction.
The Conservancy is also concerned about the precedent that this project might set, as it reflects a growing trend in the City's treatment of historic resources and the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). Similar questions have been raised with the 2014 demolitions of the Mole-Richardson Studio Depot and St. John's in the Valley Methodist Church.